2005 hurricane claims – the deadline has passed

Claude Penland passes along a Naples Daily News story about the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Wilma, Florida’s second worst hurricane for insured losses. (Andrew, from 1992, is still No. 1 with a bullet.)

Usually anniversary stories aren’t so newsy. Papers run them because they’re well-read, nostalgic and they take up space. Wilma’s five-year, though, has an actual news peg:

In Florida, homeowners have five years to file a claim or lawsuit, protecting their rights to get damages from their insurer after a hurricane.

For Wilma, that deadline was Oct. 24.

It’s easy to think that, were your house hit by a hurricane, you would notice. At least within the first year or so.

In our house, the dinner conversation would be:

“Honey, remember that Category 3 hurricane a coupla weeks ago that wrecked Cancun, made a U-turn, raked across Florida and destroyed most of our neighborhood?”

“Y-e-e-s-s-s-s-s. . . .”

“Was our house damaged?”

“Aw, hell. Let me check.”


“Yeah. No roof.

“Can you call somebody about that tomorrow?”

But this is Florida:

In the past two weeks, Childress Duffy Ltd., a law firm out of Chicago, has filed about 40 lawsuits against insurers on behalf of condo associations here and in South Florida, seeking millions in damages caused by Wilma.

Before Wilma, most hurricane claims were filed and settled within a few months. Like most actuaries, I’ve seen loss development on a lot of catastrophes. The damage is generally open and obvious and with hurricanes, and disputes arise over the cause of the loss (wind is covered but flood is not).

But Wilma ushered in the era of the public adjuster, a claims professional unaffiliated with an insurance company. These seasoned pros drifted to Florida when it was hit by three storms in 2004 and became expert at fighting the insurer to maximize the settlement. It’s quite remarkable that the Naples Daily News story fails to even mention them.

Claims guys, their eyes rolling, will tell you stories about the absurd claims public adjusters file. The major charge – they try to shoehorn every fault in the building into the insurance claim.

Are the claims legitimate? Well, surely, there is some fraud – that’s life – but I can’t tell you firsthand that public adjusters are more fraud-prone than anyone else. I’m sure they would argue they are effective advocates in an area where there previously was none.

But, well, one has one’s Spidey-sense, doesn’t one? And it is odd that the last hurricane to hit Florida – Wilma – is the one that seems to be getting milked. And it’s also odd that as the Wilma deadline passes, the state has suddenly become pock-marked with sinkholes.

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